Although 43-fight veteran Heath Herring hasn’t competed since 2008, “The Texas Crazy Horse” hasn’t officially hung up his four-ounce gloves, either.
After dropping a unanimous decision to Brock Lesnar at UFC 87, Herring elected to wait for his contract with the Las Vegas-based promotion to expire.
“I never actually officially retired,” Herring told Sherdog.com. “I did have a contract with UFC that expired in 2009. I’ve had several attorneys look at it; it’s well expired. They try to put clauses in there saying that you officially retired then your contract would end at that point. Which is why I never retired, I just wanted to let the contract run its time and expire.”
In the meantime, Herring compiled an extensive IMDB profile, tried to promote fights in South America and even had a stint on the professional poker circuit. The 37-year-old chuckles when asked about his current endeavors.
“I’ve just been doing side stuff, nothing that I want to get into too much,” he said. “Business with security, but nothing to write home or brag about... nothing as romantic as doing movies, poker or fight promotion.”
That said, Herring is relatively young when it comes to the current heavyweight landscape, where the division’s top 10 features a number of fighters who were big names back when he was still competing.
Herring will be in Japan to help promote Rizin Fighting Federation’s New Year’s Eve card, but that’s as far as his role will go -- at least for now. If Nobuyuki Sakakibara, former Pride Fighting Championships and current Rizin head, makes a suitable offer, Herring isn’t completely ruling out a return.
“It is something I’m considering. Like anything else in life you’ve got to move on. I’ve moved on and done some things. Obviously fighting and training is something that I do every day. I’m not in the game. For me, I know what it takes to compete at the top level. That’s something if you’re really gonna be serious with, you have to dedicate 100 percent of your time to doing it. No, I am not in that situation at all at this point,” he said.
“If we go to Japan and they put a good deal on the table and... it’s good for all parties concerned and my wife seems happy with it, I’m not ruling it out by any means,” Herring continued. “It would take a lot of restructuring my life to get in the position where I could be dedicated 100-percent and be in the kind of shape that not only I want to be in, but the fans paying to watch the fights deserve to have a guy show up and be prepared to fight.”
For now, Herring will be a spectator as the festivities unfold in Saitama, Japan. The event is headlined by the return of Fedor Emelianenko, who will face kick boxer Jaideep Singh in the evening’s headliner on New Year’s Eve. The card will air in the United States via tape delay on Spike at 10 a.m. ET/10 p.m. PT on Dec. 31.
As someone who made a name for himself competing for Pride, Herring knows how popular MMA can be in Japan at its peak. He has nothing but positive memories of working with Sakakibara and the rest of the organization from those days.
“When Sakakibara came in and took over, I just had a really good working relationship with the guy,” Herring said. “Having fought for as long as I did, working for different promoters and organizations, the guy always went above and beyond, always did exactly what he said he was gonna do.
“I remember when I fought [Antonio Rodrigo] Nogueira for the first heavyweight title in Japan, they brought my family over. That was always something I really appreciated. They took care of us, put them up in a hotel. That was something that was unexpected but very much appreciated. I’ve always kind of had a soft spot in my heart for that guy.”
With that in mind, Herring isn’t surprised that Emelianenko elected to come out of retirement when he did. While the stoic Russian always had trouble negotiating with the UFC, Rizin presented a more appealing alternative for the longtime pound-for-pound great.
“It wasn’t really a shock, to be honest. I think there’s a large group of fighters that were fairly active a while back that just didn’t want to participate or operate because there was only one game in town,” Herring said. “Now that there’s another one coming about I think we might see a resurgence of guys in their mid to late 30s who would like to get back in the ring — or even early 40s. I think the UFC is very difficult and hard to work with and a lot of guys aren’t really willing to sign and do all the leg work that the UFC expects from their younger guys who really don’t know any better.
“If you didn’t know anything different, and you’re used to operating under their rules that’s one way, but I think for guys that had a little bit more latitude and were used to operating with a different set of parameters, I think that hard-line approach that the UFC uses wasn’t appealing to a lot of guys.”
Whether Herring eventually becomes one of those guys remains to be seen. If he does elect to follow in Emelianenko’s footsteps, he recognizes the work a comeback will entail.
“I’m definitely gonna go and talk, but it’s a commitment. I looked at it as If I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna show up in shape and put on the best fights possible. The last thing you want to do is look like garbage, put on a boring fight and not make people feel like their money was wisely spent. I always tried to put on the best fight possible.”